Disappearing airtime – MyBroadband 2019 test

Smartphone users often complain that their airtime disappears for no reason, but this phenomenon can usually be attributed to unknown WASP subscriptions, background data usage, or malware.

Airtime can disappear and has before, however, with both MTN and Vodacom customers experiencing rare cases of the issue.

These incidents have not occured of late, though, and new regulations implemented by ICASA in March 2019 should further decrease the potential of unexplained airtime depletion.

The new regulations require that all out-of-bundle (OOB) data usage is disabled by default, requiring customers to opt-in to the service.

Testing disappearing data

To ensure that all mobile networks are abiding by these regulations, we ran a new set of “disappearing airtime” tests in April 2019.

A prepaid SIM from each major network was loaded with R10.00 airtime and placed in a Nokia 5 LTE-enabled smartphone.

The tests consisted of the smartphones being set up in four configurations for set periods of time.

The configurations, with the SIMs in and airtime loaded, were:

  • Smartphones off.
  • Smartphones on, Wi-Fi and mobile data off.
  • Smartphones on, Wi-Fi on, and mobile data off.
  • Smartphones on, Wi-Fi off, and mobile data on.

The fourth test would help determine whether the airtime balance was still affected when the data balance was depleted after the implementation of the new ICASA OOB regulations.

The prepaid SIM cards began with the following balances:

  • Vodacom – R10.00
  • MTN – R10.00
  • Telkom – R10.00
  • Cell C – R10.00

All devices were using clean installs of Android and had exactly the same applications installed and settings enabled.

The results for each stage of the test are shown below.


Devices Off

The airtime balances on the devices remained the same after they were left turned off for an extended period of time.

  • Vodacom – R10.00
  • MTN – R10.00
  • Telkom – R10.00
  • Cell C – R10.00

Devices On

We measured no change in the airtime balances after leaving all of the devices on and charged for a set period, with mobile data and Wi-Fi turned off.

  • Vodacom – R10.00
  • MTN – R10.00
  • Telkom – R10.00
  • Cell C – R10.00

Wi-Fi On

No “disappearing airtime” was observed after Wi-Fi was enabled and the devices were left on.

  • Vodacom – R10.00
  • MTN – R10.00
  • Telkom – R10.00
  • Cell C – R10.00

Mobile Data On

By switching Wi-Fi off, enabling mobile data, and using the My Data Manager app to track the data usage on the devices, we would be able to determine whether any unapproved out-of-bundle usage was occurring.

No data usage was recorded however, as it appears that the out-of-bundle usage prevention enabled by default on all mobile operators prevented the decline of a user’s airtime balance when no data bundle was active.

The devices reflected the following airtime balance at the end of this test:

  • Vodacom – R10.00
  • MTN – R10.00
  • Telkom – R10.00
  • Cell C – R10.00

Verdict

Our tests show that there were no instances of “disappearing airtime” on our devices.

Additionally, the lack of out-of-bundle data usage marked a change from the days of automatic OOB charges which could quickly deplete airtime balances.

This was especially true in case where users were not adequately warned that their mobile data bundle was close to depletion.


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Disappearing airtime – MyBroadband 2019 test